Fatima Lodhi is the founder of Dark is Divine, a global anti-colorism campaign. In her story she shares how a negative self-image due to discrimination weakened her as a child but has given her power to transform society as she has grown up.
Dark — a word that brings a tingle to the spine, especially in countries where the blight of colorism exists. Colorism is a form of discrimination, an attitude that prefers lighter skin tones to darker ones and considers those with naturally darker skin less desirable.
In Asia, and particularly South Asia, those with dark complexions — especially girls — have lived more difficult lives due to the color of their skin. Women with dark complexions feel alienated from their societies, which provide a healthy market for beauty products that promise to lighten skin tones overnight. From a young age, girls are taught that if they are fair-skinned, they are confident and beautiful; if they are dark, they will have no social life.
Being dark-skinned myself, it didn’t take long for me to fall victim to my own skin color. Everything was normal until the day I started school. In my art class, my teacher asked me to use a peach crayon, calling it a skin color crayon, and not any darker shades like brown or black to color the face I drew. But I chose a dark brown color. This was the first time I experienced colorism.
Everything around was so white, so fair, be it the cartoon characters I used to watch on TV, the fairy tales or the bedtime stories I used to read or listen to, or the Barbie dolls I used to play with. Even nearly all of the Disney princesses girls start their childhood with are fair-skinned.
As time passed, I began to realize that despite all my capabilities, I was always judged on the basis of my skin color by those around me. I had no friends because nobody wanted to play or be seen with me. I never got a chance to become a fairy in my school plays because fairies are supposed to be fair skinned. Like many other dark girls at my school, I suffered and faced a lot of criticism by my classmates with terms like “ugly duckling” and “blackie,” and songs were sung just to mock at me. I also remember once being nominated in my high school awards ceremony for the category called “makeover required,” and the way my school fellows started clapping and hooting when my name was announced was not humorous, but hurting.
As I entered teenage life, aunties and other older relatives would recommend fairness creams to me. Beauty creams aside, I was told about all the possible remedies to turn myself into a white girl with the fear of “Who will marry you?” “How will you get a good job?” “One needs to look presentable to move in the society.” Being presentable in society was linked with being fair skinned.
I spent my childhood and teenage life having zero confidence and low self-esteem thanks to the incidents I faced. A time eventually came when I had had enough and didn’t want to live anymore. But I suppose it wasn’t my fault because it’s how we have been brought up — the fairer the better. Our minds have been polluted by the unfair advertisements that are shown 24/7 on our television screens as well as the cultural misunderstanding that being beautiful is about having a fair complexion. It’s not just the media. Consider the mothers who are always in a search for white-skinned daughter-in-laws for their sons and rejecting those who are dark skinned.
Being an antisocial person, I always preferred not to interact with people much because past social incidents had a huge psychological impact on me. But I finally decided to join the world of activism to overcome my fears, and with the passage of time, I became an active social player trying to bolster up women in society. I started lobbying for women leadership legislations by arranging consultancy services. I was striving to bridge the gap between the socioeconomic and political fortification of women. Gradually I gained more confidence as I continued my efforts for women empowerment and finally grew out of all the fears that I had had.
But soon I realized that I was living in a fool’s paradise because despite of all my efforts and achievements in the world of activism, the skin color stratification would not leave me and still, I was being mocked with statements like “Let’s paint her white.” Sometimes I tried raising a voice against colorism, but my voice for help about something that affects millions of women every day was met with a resonating silence.
The question kept nagging me as to why society rejects people who are dark skinned and follows an unrealistic definition of beauty when complexions come from God and no one can change them. I decided to go against the tide and take a stand against this biased attitude. I decided to dedicate my efforts for the much needed change. I decided to spread the message of diversity, uniqueness and respecting differences.
This is how Dark is Divine came into being. The first anti-colorism campaign from Pakistan, working globally through local action. A campaign that aims to transform societies where colorism exists into a region where dark skin color is embraced with as much good grace as light-skin colors to the point where the skin color, body shape and body size of a woman ultimately has no importance.
Dark Is Divine believes that beauty products advertisements unfairly assert that if women are light-skinned, they are flourishing. These advertisements teach young girls that their self-confidence and success depends on the structure, shape and height of their bodies and especially on the lightness of their skin. Such unfair advertisements are responsible for emphasizing negative stereotypes, creating social inequalities and inferiority complexes that lead to depression and segregation from society. Dark-skinned girls encounter discrimination when applying for jobs that place them in the public eye, such as receptionist positions, flight attendants and television anchors. If a dark-skinned woman does get such a job, she will likely be asked to cover her face with a light foundation.
We speak against racism, rape, gender inequality, but we keep ignoring the most ingrained issues. We never stop comparing one woman from another on the basis of her looks and these biases curtail us from moving forward in life. We speak of religious equality and human rights, and that the first right is respect each other for who we are and not how we look. However our society has failed to provide this respect, biased towards our own and we have dual and superficial standards for everything around us. Dark Is Divine aims to rid the society of this mindset and to prove that respect for all is important.
It wasn’t easy to start an anti-colorism campaign. In the beginning nobody was ready to accept the concept of Dark Is Divine. The local newspaper that I had contacted to get my article published rejected me. I was told colorism is not a big issue. But I didn’t give up, and with a lot of determination, my articles got published, and through my articles, I got a chance to reach out to the masses. Meanwhile, I also started conducting sessions at different schools and universities, which have generated awareness regarding color stratification, and I got a chance to deliver sessions on confidence building and suicide prevention to 200,000 students from India. What I have started is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Everyone from this new generation needs to take a stand against society’s unpractical standards of beauty.